I was familiar with Maggie Hambling’s paintings of the sea and on a recent visit to Aldeburgh I had been to see her sculpture on the seashore.
This exhibition was something of a revelation. It showed Hambling’s skill with charcoal, ink and monotype. But most interestingly it gave an insight into her thoughts and methods.
At the start of the exhibition she is quoted “drawing is an artist’s most direct and intimate response to the world . . . I try to distil the essence of the subject and capture the life force of a moment”. It was interesting to read that whenever Hambling is going to paint a portrait she will always start with a drawing “in order to discover the landscape of the face and begin to respond to the spirit of the person”. One of the first examples of this in the exhibition is a drawing of the comedian Max Wall.
This was a drawing done by Hambling in preparation for the portrait now at the Tate. She describes how in this drawing she discovered “the composition for the painting . . . He has the true face of the sad clown, possessing that power I can only call magical to make one laugh and cry at the same moment”.
In this drawing she has captured perfectly this funny/mournful combination, Wall’s face has sadness behind the eyes but with the hints of the faintest smile on his lips.
I admired the sea paintings of hers that I have had the chance to see. So it was doubly interesting to see an etching from her wave series. She successfully conveys the same sense of power and energy in both formats which I think is a great testament to her skill.